The weather has improved and it has stopped raining, for the moment! It has grown considerably colder but at least we can get out of the house. More on the weather later but we have just got back from our first repas of 2018. This time at the repas for Gorrron Football Club which had the age-old choice of tripe or a pork chop, with frites of course. It was a very nice meal and I made the mistake (?) at the end of the meal of asking for the homemade calva to be poured into an empty plastic cup as opposed to the normal addition to the coffee. So, instead of a drop of calva topping up my cup I had a whole cup full of local homemade calva. It was very good and very strong calva.

Gorron FC repas

Of course, I had not factored in the after dinner invite back to Emile and Yvette’s for coffee, with naturally more calva, although this time I added it too my coffee. Now I am at home and feeling very mellow. I have decided it is a good time to read the annual report from the mayor of Couesmes-Vauce, Madame Baglin, which arrived yesterday.

The annual report covers a multitude of local issues and what the local commune council had been up to in the past 12 months. There have been three births, one marriage and sadly 8 deaths, so the population has decreased to 380. However, in a bid to excite us all the village hall (sale des fetes) has been completely refurbished at a coat of around 300,000 Euros. It took 9 months to complete and there is to be an open day next Saturday so we can all go and see. More importantly it has been finished in time for the annual dinner for the “Cheveux Blancs” (the white hairs) or those in the commune over the age of 65. That is on Sunday 28th January and Mrs. Parish and I have had our invite and are hoping for a clear day as we need to walk up to the hall as there is a high alcohol tariff with this meal!

The annual report is also full of warning about pests. In France we have a major problem with Ragondins (Coypu). The Coypu is a large rodent and is the only member of the family Myocastoridae.

It is not a native species in France and was introduced from South America in the 19th century for its fur, (as were American Mink and Musk rats from North America). Following escapes and deliberate releases in the 1930’s when demand fell in the global depression they have spread to most regions of France.

Resembling a large rat or perhaps a Beaver with a rat like tail they grow to 40–60 cm in body length and have a 30–45 cm tail. They have a coarse, darkish brown outer fur with a soft dense grey under-fur, also called the nutria. They have webbed rear feet, large bright orange-yellow incisors and a whitish patch on the muzzle. Adults weigh 5–9 kg. 

Ragondin (not popular in France)

There is no doubt that they cause serious damage to the quality of the environment they inhabit with serious consequences for native species and the wider environment. Water quality can be seriously degraded as the natural filters provided by reeds, sedges and other bank side plants are removed and bank sides undermined. The destruction of these plants will also remove valuable sites for the birds and insects that depend upon them either for nesting, important forage or cover, and of course there is the considerable loss of some plant species. There is also a certain amount of economic damage caused to crops, particularly maize, carrots and other roots.

They also spread diseases to humans such as leptospirosis and other similar diseases. There is a policy of trying to eradicate this invasive species which moves along French water course at an alarming rate. In the Pays de La Loire region there have been nearly 2 million coypu and muskrats caught in the past 10 years. They are trapped and then humanely killed. Some friends of ours who have a small lake have captured nearly 50 coypus in the past 2 years as well as a duck and a small cat who were released!

Also, we have been warned about processional caterpillars which infect pine trees in particular and have pointed spinal needles which can cause severe reaction on the skin of humans. So, there are now recommended pest controllers who will come in and destroy them for you. The other species to watch out for is the Asiatic hornet which is creeping north as a result of climate change. These are more aggressive than native hornets and must be reported to the mayor and their nests destroyed.

On a more cheerful and positive note the annual report also covers services to support young people and also to care for the elderly who live in the commune.

One thing lacking is an update on the activities of the local hunt. Yesterday they arrived mob handed in the field that is next to our gite. They were all togged up with fluorescent orange jackets and shot guns. They surrounded the next field across with winter crops growing, and sent in some beaters with dogs. Out of the field at great pace came two deer. The hunt is not allowed to shoot deer at the moment so they ran off and the hunt waited to see if any foxes were chased out. With a lot of livestock locally and many chickens around (including our own!) there is a need to manage the fox population. I was up in the gite painting one of the bedrooms, so I was able to watch the ensuing chaos which seems to typify French hunting. No fat bastards on horses, these are local farmers and working people trying to keep down the number of foxes.

However, the dogs emerged from the field after about 20 minutes with the beaters doing an awful lot of shouting and blowing horns. The dogs burst out of the field and just kept running despite shouts from the handlers. They got a scent of the deer and went off to chase shadows as the deer were long gone. After more than an hour the dogs were still missing and there was no sign of any fox at risk of being shot.

After a couple of hours it started to get darker and the hunters departed, no doubt to a local bar for a few calvas. It was very cold so they would need warming up. There were still a few left trying to locate the dogs!

Mrs. Parish at Ice Station Zebra

I started off talking about the weather, which has an important place here at La Godefrere and in particular with Mrs. Parish because of the gardening. So, for Christmas I bought her a weather station and in the week, we put it up in the garden. It has a rain gauge, temperature measure and a wind monitor. It sends the results back to the house by WIFI and we have a monitor and screen which receives the information and displays it. At the moment there is no rain and the wind is coming from the North-East at a speed of 1.1 km/hr.  The temperature is 3.9 degrees Celsius. Mrs. Parish is very happy with her new weather station. There is a family obsession with the weather and her father was a great one for monitoring and her brother John also ahs his own weather station!

So, after a day of feasting and drinking red wine and very strong calva, I am sat in front of the fire and trying to stay awake long enough to complete the blog. I reflect to Mrs. Parish that life is never dull here in rural France!

Bonne journee